High up on bucolic Hollywood Hill above the now teeming Schoolhouse District sits Adams Bench. Tim and Erica Blue founded the winery 2006, naming it after a bench where children were sent for punishment when Tim Blue was a child in Indiana.
Tim Blue says of starting the winery, “We hadn’t bottled anything. We hadn’t proved we could bottle anything.” Five years later, Tim and Erica Blue have proven a considerable amount, creating a series of consistently high quality wines that rival some of the state’s best, all with a clear house style.
The backbone of the winery is three red wines, two Cabernets and a Bordeaux-style blend. For each, the Blues picked a set of distinctive vineyard sites that include Red Willow, Two Blondes, and Stillwater Creek.
“Before we made any wine of any type we drove almost every square mile of Washington,” Tim Blue says. One of the places they visited was Champoux Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills, where owner Paul Champoux directed them towards May’s Discovery Vineyard. This vineyard has since become one of the principal components of the ‘the V’ Cabernet Sauvignon.
“It’s a windy site,” Blue says of May’s Discovery, “and invariably the darkest fruit that we have.” Tasting through a four year vertical of this wine, a distinctive spice component from May’s Vineyard shows through in each wine (Note: As the 2009 was a prerelease wine I have not included my notes here). Each of the library wines was showing beautifully with each vintage building upon the one that came before and each year bringing improvements in a sure sign of the couple’s perfectionist streak.
Of note, the Blues recently completed a new underground storage facility as well as a small, dedicated tasting facility. While I was there a coyote prowled the grounds outside the winery as the sun began to set making for a perfect place to visit and enjoy some of the best that Washington has to offer.
Note: Adams Bench is open by appointment.
Adams Bench Cabernet Sauvignon Red Willow Yakima Valley 2008 $60
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Dark and alluring with dark, dried cherries, incense, and high toned herbal notes. Completely coats the palate from end to end with bold but beautifully balanced dark fruit flavors. Taught, grainy tannins squeeze the tongue before gently letting go. Carries into a long finish. A prototype of Washington Cabernet Sauvignon, once again showing Tim Blue among the state’s best. Give two-plus years or decant extensively. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot. 14.9% alcohol. 100 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Adams Bench Cabernet Sauvignon ‘the V’ Columbia Valley 2008 $49
Rating: */** (Excellent/Exceptional) Locked up tightly initially with dusty chocolate, dark cherries, incense, black currant, crushed dried flowers, spice, and herbal notes. The palate is bold and lush with chocolate, dark fruit flavors, and grainy tannins. Hangs on the finish. Give two-plus years or decant extensively. 80% Cabernet Sauvignon (May’s Discovery, Stillwater Creek), 15% Merlot (Artz), and 5% Cabernet Franc (Two Blondes). 14.5% alcohol. 249 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Adams Bench Cabernet Sauvignon ‘the V’ Columbia Valley 2007 $NA
Rating: */** (Excellent/Exceptional) A much more aromatically expressive wine than the 2006 vintage with baker’s chocolate, exotic spices, and high toned dark fruit. The palate is full of rich, ripe, voluptuous flavors that linger on the finish. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc.
Adams Bench Cabernet Sauvignon ‘the V’ Columbia Valley 2006 $NA
Rating: * (Excellent) Dark and appealing with distinctive aromas of exotic spices and an under layer of dark fruit. The palate is silky and lush with abundant chocolate and dark fruit flavors. A gorgeous wine that is drinking beautifully right now. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc.
Adams Bench The Reckoning Red Wine Columbia Valley 2008 $39
Rating: * (Excellent) Dark ruby. An aromatically appealing wine with red and black fruit, herbal notes, spice, and bittersweet chocolate. The palate’s graceful red and black fruit flavors belie firm, chewy tannins. 51% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc. 14.9% alcohol. 546 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Kerloo Cellars had its inaugural releases two years ago with a pair of stunning Syrahs. Since that time winemaker Ryan Crane has established himself as one of the most exciting new winemakers in the state.
When I first talked to Crane about his wines back in 2009, he said his goal at Kerloo Cellars was, “to craft varietally correct wines that showcase a ‘sense of place’ with respect to the vineyards in which they are grown. I want to create wines that are palate challenging across the board and hold true to the varietal.” Since then Crane has done all that and more.
In terms of showcasing a sense of place, each of the Kerloo Cellars wines states on the back label the vineyard as well as the specific block of the vineyard. In the case of one of the wines it even states, “Rows 1-6.”
Crane, who was assistant winemaker at Va Piano Vineyards before he left to focus on Kerloo full-time earlier this year, is ever experimenting, whether it’s with different vineyards, varietals, or coopers. For the 2011 vintage he purchased a concrete fermenter, which he has affectionately named ‘Lucy.’
“I just keep trying to make more unique, fun wines,” Crane says. And is he ever. As with the previous vintages, the 2009 vintage releases include two Syrahs and a Columbia Valley Tempranillo. There are also a few additions: a Walla Walla Valley Garnacha, a Columbia Valley Grenache, and a vineyard designated Malbec (Note: The latter two are wine club offerings).
Of the new additions, Kerloo’s Walla Walla Valley Garnacha is one of the more thrilling wines that I have had this year, a wine that shows tremendous delicacy and refinement from an area where Grenache is seldom grown. The Malbec, meanwhile, is one of the more compelling bottles of this varietal that I have had from Washington with incredibly pure fruit expression.
In terms of style, several things stand out about the current Kerloo wines. All are in the low 14% or below in alcohol and all are low in oak (18-25% new on the current releases). “I want the wine and the vineyard to show, not the oak. That’s just me,” Crane says.
What comes next for Kerloo Cellars? I, for one, am looking forward to finding out.
Kerloo Cellars produced 90 barrels (approximately 2,250 cases) in 2011. All wines unfined and unfiltered. Note: Kerloo Cellars tasting room in Walla Walla is closed until March except by appointment.
Kerloo Cellars Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2009 $34
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Medium ruby with a purple rim. An aromatic wine with plum, black pepper, and chocolate along with savory, mineral, and floral notes. The palate is perfumed, silky and seductive, full of umami and chocolate flavors with grainy tannins, opening up and broadening out to an exclamation point. Persists on the finish for nearly a full minute. A beautifully restrained, impressive expression of valley Syrah that holds up over days. 72% Va Piano Vineyard Block 6, 26% Les Collines Vineyard Block 30, 2% Viognier Les Collines Block 48. Aged in French oak (18% new) with 35% stems. 14.4% alcohol. 127 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Kerloo Cellars Syrah Les Collines Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2009 $34
Rating: * (Excellent) More tightly locked up than its 2009 Walla Walla Valley counterpart at first, this wine opens over time to reveal peppery spice, chocolate, smoked meat, violets, and mineral notes. The palate is on the lighter side of medium bodied and front loaded with silky tannins and lithe fruit and meat flavors capped off by a tart, lightly herbal finish. Needed several days open to fully reveal its charms, but once it did…100% Les Collines Block 30 and 50. Aged in French oak (18% new) with 20% stems. 14.3% alcohol. 127 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Kerloo Cellars Grenache Columbia Valley 2009 $40
Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent) Medium ruby and slightly cloudy. Very pretty, delicate aromatics of raspberries, red vines, and herbal notes. The fruit is very restrained, silky, and textured with a tart finish. 75% Alder Ridge Block 30, 25% Cockburn Ranch Block 20. Aged in French oak (25% new). 14.0% alcohol. 92 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Kerloo Cellars Garnacha Cockburn Ranch Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2009 $38
Rating: * (Excellent) Pale ruby and slightly cloudy. Very light, delicate aromas of pine resin, vanilla, spice, and red fruit. The palate is soft, light bodied, silky and seductive with red fruit accented by vanilla flavors. Tremendous hang time on the finish. An absolutely beautiful, delicate, unique wine and a rarely seen Walla Walla Valley Grenache. 100% Grenache. Cockburn Ranch, Block 20. Aged 17 months in neutral French oak. 12.1% alcohol. 22 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Kerloo Cellars Malbec Chelle Den Mille Vineyard Yakima Valley 2009 $40
Rating: * (Excellent) Almost completely opaque with a purple rim. Lightly aromatic with plum, white pepper, and spice. The palate is soft and reserved, medium bodied with pure fruit flavors with minimal oak influence. Dips slightly in the middle before pulling back together and lingering on a tart finish. An incredibly understated wine that is one of the finest, purest examples of Washington Malbec I have had. 100% Malbec. Chelle Den Mille Vineyard Rows 1-6. Aged in French oak (25% new). 13.9% alcohol. 92 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Kerloo Cellars Tempranillo Columbia Valley 2009 $34
Rating: + (Good) Lightly aromatic with spice and red fruit. The palate is tart with soft, pure flavors, dipping a bit in the middle before coming back together for a lingering finish. 53% Stone Tree Vineyard Block 17, 47% Les Collines Block 6. Aged in French and American oak (18% new). 13.9% alcohol. 184 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
In terms of style, owner Doug Long says, “I’m looking for elegance.” Indeed while many wineries using Red Mountain fruit are going after a ripe style packed with the area’s abundant tannins, Long is looking to dial things down. Noticeably, none of the wines sampled below were above 14.2% alcohol – many were considerably below – and the tannins on all of the wines were kept in check.
All of the Obelisco wines have a distinctive, reserved style with abundant spice and fruit notes leading to a drawn out finish. The wines are also extremely well priced; it’s hard to think of too many Red Mountain wines out there coming in at $30.
For production, Long works with Hedges and Barrage Cellars. “My focus is really vineyards and producing really good fruit,” Long says, noting that the vineyard is planted at a high 2,000 vines per acre. Long is responsible for the final blends.
The Electrum is Obelisco’s flagship wine, with a the blend reflecting the vineyard plantings. “This is the wine I wanted to produce when I planted the vineyard,” Long says.
Obelisco produces 2,400 hundred cases annually.
Obelisco Estate Les Gosses Vineyard Syrah Red Mountain 2008 $30
Rating: * (Excellent) Medium ruby. Aromas of spice, red currant, floral notes, red fruit, and barnyard aromas. The palate is tart with soft fruit flavors and firm tannins. Hangs on the finish. A very enjoyable wine. 14.2% alcohol. 395 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Obelisco Estate Les Gosses Vineyard Syrah Red Mountain 2009 $30
Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent) Pale ruby. An aromatically expressive wine with spice, chocolate, and red currant. The palate is silky and seductive with drawn on red fruit flavors and silky tannins. Lingers on the finish. 100% Syrah. 14.2% alcohol. 250 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Obelisco Estate Estate Grown Malbec Red Mountain 2008 $30
Rating: + (Good) Medium ruby. Aromas of exotic spice, incense, and spicy plum on an alluring wine. The palate is tart, medium bodied, and restrained with smooth fruit flavors and soft tannins. Dips a bit in the middle but overall a very enjoyable, extremely restrained wine that is a distinct style for Washington. Lingers on the finish. 80% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. 12.9% alcohol. 300 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Obelisco Estate Estate Grown Merlot Red Mountain 2008 $30
Rating: */** (Excellent/Exceptional) Leaps up from the glass with smoky oak notes, spice, incense, and red fruit. The palate is loaded with fruit flavors that draw out and lead to a long, spice filled finish. A beautiful wine that is a steal at this price point. 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Syrah, and 5% Malbec. 13.7% alcohol. 395 cases produced.
Obelisco Estate Estate Grown Reserve Merlot Red Mountain 2009 $40
Rating: */** (Excellent/Exceptional) Medium ruby. An aromatically appealing wine with spice, incense, red and black fruit. The palate is simultaneously rich and elegant with soft fruit flavors and silky tannins. A long, lingering, fruit filled finish. An outstanding, thoroughly delicious representation of Washington Merlot. 75% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, and 5% Syrah. 258 cases produced. 13.8% alcohol.
Obelisco Estate Red Wine Red Mountain 2008 $30
Rating: * (Excellent) Roasted coffee bean, dark cherries, toasty oak spices, and light herbal notes. Full of soft, sinewy fruit flavors and sappy oak flavors. 70.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 4.5% Malbec. 13.7% alcohol. 1,264 cases produced. Reviewed June 23, 2011
Obelisco Estate Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain 2009 $40
Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent) Medium ruby. Lightly aromatic with coffee grounds, cherries, cranberries, earth, and spice. The palate is rounded and soft with tart, cranberry fruit flavors and grainy tannins. Very pure fruit flavors on this wine and all of the current releases. A lingering finish. 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17.6% alcohol, 3.6% Malbec, 0.8% Syrah. 14.1% alcohol. 755 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Obelisco Estate Estate Grown Electrum Red Mountain 2009 $65
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Medium ruby. Aromatically closed up at present, the wine opens to reveal coffee tones, dark fruit, and incense. The palate brings soft, silky, but rich fruit flavors with polished tannins and a lingering finish. Give 1-2 years. 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7.5% Merlot, and 2.5% Malbec. 14.1% alcohol. 300 cases produced.
Cave B Estate Winery
Cave B Estate Winery is a destination winery located in George, Washington next to the Gorge Amphitheatre. A little over two hours from Seattle, the area boasts sweeping views of the Columbia River as well as an on-site inn, spa, and restaurant.
Almost all of Cave B’s diverse offerings come from its estate vineyards either surrounding the winery or within a stone’s throw. These vineyards all lie within the to-be-approved Ancient Lakes viticultural area.
The Ancient Lakes area is one of the cooler growing regions in the state. Nearby Evergreen Vineyard has become well known for white varietals such as Riesling, Chardonnay, and Gewurztraminer. Growing red grapes in the area can be more challenging, with winemaker Freddy Arredondo saying it requires vigilance in the vineyard.
While the results so far are mixed, Cave B continues to give an interesting look into this evolving growing region.
Cave B Estate Winery Unoaked Chardonnay Cave B Vineyards Columbia Valley 2010 $19
Rating: . (Decent) Lightly aromatic with lemon and white peach. The palate is tart and textured with a full feel and lemony acidity that occasionally veers toward sour. 12.7% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.
Cave B Estate Winery Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2009 $25
Rating: + (Good) Moderately aromatic with vanilla, spice, melon, and tropical fruit. The palate is full of oak spices with a creamy feel. Thins out toward the finish. 100% Chardonnay. 14.6% alcohol. 171 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Cave B Estate Winery Sauvignon Blanc Cave B Vineyards Columbia Valley 2010 $20
Rating: + (Good) A very herbal wine with lemon zest and lime notes. The palate is tart with a lemony zing of acidity. 13.0% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.
Cave B Estate Winery Semillon Columbia Valley 2009 $20
Rating: . (Decent) Very lightly aromatic with fresh spun cotton and spice. The palate is creamy with a full feel. 90% Semillon, 10% Sauvignon Blanc. 14.8% alcohol. 225 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Cave B Estate Winery Sangiovese Cave B Vineyards Columbia Valley 2009 $28
Rating: . (Decent) Pale ruby. A lightly aromatic wine with orange peel, red currant, fresh cranberries, and wood spice. The palate is light, tart, and tangy. 14.3% alcohol. 134 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Cave B Estate Winery XXIII Merlot Cave B Vineyards Columbia Valley 2008 $35
Rating: + (Good) Medium ruby. A moderately aromatic wine full of fresh red fruit accented by wood spice. The palate is on the lighter side of medium bodied, tart and refreshing with chalky tannins. 14.6% alcohol. 144 cases produced.
Cave B Estate Winery Cuvee du Soleil Red Wine Columbia Valley 2008 $45
Rating: + (Good) A lightly aromatic medley of herbal notes, cherries, and spice. The palate is on the lighter side of medium bodied with tart cherry flavors and grainy tannins. Thins out toward the finish. 36% Cabernet Sauvignon 36% Merlot 18% Cabernet Franc and 10% Malbec. 14.5% alcohol. 239 cases produced.
Cave B Estate Winery Malbec Cave B Vineyards Columbia Valley 2009 $35
Rating: . (Decent) Medium ruby with a slight purple tingle. A very lightly aromatic wine with green notes, chocolate, and whiffs of pepper. Comes off as quite sour. 14.8% alcohol.
Cave B Estate Winery Tempranillo Columbia Valley 2009 $28
Rating: ./+ (Decent/Good) Medium ruby. Lightly aromatic with red fruit, vanilla, and sweet spices. The palate is dry and medium bodied with grippy tannins. Thins out towards the finish. 14.6% alcohol.
Cave B Estate Winery Syrah Cave B Vineyards Columbia Valley 2009 $25
Rating: . (Decent) A moderately aromatic wine with red fruit, potpourri, and orange peel. Comes off as simultaneously tart and sweet on the palate, finishing very tart. 14.8% alcohol.
Soos Creek Wine Cellars consistently under prices and over delivers across its lineup. A Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Bordeaux-style blend for $30? I can almost see the stickers on the wines, “Compare at $60.” Read a Focus Report on the winery here.
Soos Creek Wine Cellars Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2008 $30
Rating: * (Excellent) An aromatically appealing wine with dark fruit, chocolate, floral notes, and spice. The palate is tightly wound with a core of black fruit flavors hanging on a scaffolding of grippy tannins. Lingers on the finish. 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc and 9% Merlot.